[Sheet Music]

Lesson 15: Composition/ Songwriting

Some Methods/ Techniques for Composition

Check out lesson 122, where I list a number of methods/ techniques for composition.

Don't Expect It to Be Easy

Composition/ songwriting is hard work. You have to be inspired in order to come up with something, but it can help to try to put yourself in a situation where you can write. It may even hurt to write. You may feel like you're totally empty inside after writing something.

Personally I often get ideas for songs when it's impossible for me even to write them down. This may be when I'm supervising a test at school, taking part of a conference or when travelling. I can't sit down and think that I'm going to write something. For me it just happens when it has to happen.

Studying Great Composers/ Songwriters

You should study the works of great composers/ songwriters. I have personally extensively studied the following:

  • The Beatles
  • Elvis Costello
  • Miles Davis
  • Bill Evans
  • Bill Frisell
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim
  • Stefan "Kilju" Lindblom
  • Paddy McAloon ( of Prefab Sprout)
  • Pat Metheny
  • Thelonious Monk
  • The Police
  • Cole Porter
  • Arsenio Rodriguez
  • Lalo Schifrin
  • Max Schultz
  • John Scofield
  • Wayne Shorter
  • Steely Dan
  • David Sylvian
  • Tom Waits
  • Weather Report

Being True to Yourself

Don't try to write to please others. Write for yourself and you will probably succeed, at least you won't despise yourself if you do. And if you don't succeed as far as fame and fortune goes, the satisfaction you get from being true to yourself should be reward enough. You really have to let out what's inside you, if there's anything there that is ( if there isn't, you weren't meant to be a composer/ songwriter in the first place).

I used to suffer from some kind of "sophistication complex". I used to think that music had to be complicated in order to be worth anything. Nowadays I try to go with the flow when I write, to rely on instinct and to let my ideas flow freely and I don't worry too much about what it is that I come up with until I'm finished. I'm not afraid of writing simple music anymore and I think that has made me a better composer/ songwriter.

On Productivity

I read somewhere that Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout tries to write something everyday. He may actually have written a lot of bad songs as well as the great ones we have got to hear. Maybe you have to write a lot of mediocre stuff if you want to come up with some pearls - I don't know? Wouldn't it be comforting to hear some really bad songs written by Becker/ Fagen, Lennon/ McCartney or McAloon?

Anyway, it is important to try to be productive. I have written 150- 200 tunes that are still around and a lot of ones that I have thrown away. It is also a good idea to save as much as possible of your work. You never know, some of the stuff you don't particularly like today you may be able to turn into something usable in a few years, or in ten or fifteen years? Many of the ideas used on my first CD are over twenty years old. I just couldn't get rid of them and the only way to put them to rest was to make this record.


There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better, for worse as his portion. That, though the wise universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him, but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power, which resides in him, is new in nature and no one but he knows what that is which he can do. Nor does he know until he has tried.
- Waldo Emerson

Touring is a blight on the creative impulse. You see what certain songs do to your audience every night, and you start writing to please them.
- Paddy McAloon ( of Prefab Sprout)

This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

- William Shakespeare ( Hamlet)

If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music which he hears,
however measured or far away.

- Henry David Thoreau

2004 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.